Saturday, November 22, 2008

Link between ear infections and allergies?

An owner of a 12 year old female Golden Retriever in the Palm Beach Post’s pet column had an inquiry about her dog experiencing ear infections every few months. She was wondering if these infections are related to the dog’s age. The dog is being fed an Iams diet for all her life and there were no changes made to the dietary habits. In the past, her vet was prescribing her Otomax, which apparently did take care of it in clearing up the infection. Also the dog has been given Animax for a couple times. But for whatever reason, now all the sudden nothing seems to work anymore. The dog went through complete blood work and at the first glance everything seems to be “normal”.
As a side note, Otomax is a FDA approved prescription drug. I personally am not too crazy about it since it comes as any drug these days with almost more side effects than benefits. While it may cure the problem, it also may cause, among others and according to the manufacturer, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and more. Animax is even worst. Also being a prescription drug, treatment with it comes automatically with the risk of various serious problems. I could live with the fact that it shouldn’t be given to pregnant animals to avoid offspring deformations. However it blew my mind when I read (and this is according to the manufacturer) that there is the risk of deformations in the forelegs and more. So now the dog’s ears are fixed but he can’t walk anymore? No, thank you. I stay away from that and hope that everybody else does too, unless it becomes a question of life or death.
The column's vet responded: “Don’t ever believe that being on the same food means that diet has nothing to do with an animal’s health problems. Ear problems and allergies are closely linked. Each batch of pet food under the same label is different because ingredients never are identical in quality and even in kind.”
With regards to this allergy assumption I personally also would like to add here that allergies don’t occur over night. They develop slowly over years. Pet owners often are under the wrong impression that allergies must be linked to a change in diet. That is not true, it is exactly the fact that our companion animals typically are being fed the same food day in and day out over years that is causing allergies to develop.
What are the indications of your dog having an ear infection? They include odor, scratching or rubbing of ears and head, discharge in the ears, redness or swelling of the ear flap or canal, shaking of the head or tilting it to one side, pain around the ears and changes in behavior such as depression or irritability
Ear disease is one of the most common conditions I hear about when I talk to my customers. Just not too long ago I read that it is estimated that up to 20% of the dog population is affected by this disease.
I think the doctor is acting a little too premature by assuming that the dog is suffering from an allergy. I am not saying he is wrong but I would have asked a few more questions. Like these: Is the dog spending a lot of his day outside? How often do you groom, or better, clean the dog (and most important in this case her ears?).
There are quite a few causes for ear infections, allergies just being one of them. If an allergy is the cause, as a matter of fact in my research I found out that an ear problem may be the first sign of the allergy. Since the allergy changes the environment within the ear, sometimes secondary infections with bacteria or yeast are quite common. In these cases just treating the ear infection is not the solution. It is necessary to figure out the root of the problem and treat the allergies and secondary infections as well.
Sometimes parasites, like the ear mite, are a common cause of ear problems. Some dogs are hypersensitive to the mites, however, and the resultant itching can be intense. These dogs may scratch so much they severely traumatize the ear.
Then there are micro organisms, like bacteria and yeast. These organisms could not find a better place to live in than a warm, dark, moist ear canal. Dogs with heavy, floppy ears may have ear problems due to the excess moisture that builds up in their ears. Numerous types of bacteria and the yeast, Malassezia pachydermatis, cause ear infections. The normal, healthy ear has a good defense against these organisms, but if the ear environment changes due to allergies, hormone abnormalities or moisture, the bacteria and yeast can greatly multiply and break down these defenses.
Foreign bodies like plant awns, those little "stick-tights" that cling to our clothes and our dogs' fur, can sometimes enter the ear canal. Their presence causes irritation, the dog scratches, and before you know it we have a traumatized, infected ear. It should be your habit to groom your dog after a walk in the woods, or any extended stay outside where he could be exposed to such foreign bodies. Make sure to check the ears.
Deficiencies or excesses of various hormones can result in skin and ear problems. Thyroid hormones produced by the adrenal gland and sex hormones influence the health of the skin and ears.
Because of the many potential causes of ear infections, one can’t just say it is a bacterial infection, dispense antibiotics, and it will go away. To be on the safe side more work should be performed. Your vet with his otoscope should check the ear canal to determine the amount of inflammation. Is the ear drum is involved? Are there any foreign bodies, tumors, or other potential causing the problem? Swabs of the ear can be taken and examined for bacteria, yeast, and mites. History and physical exams may help to determine if it is a hormonal, allergic, or hereditary problem. If these are suspected, further diagnostic testing will be needed.
Regardless of what the actual cause of the ear disease is, hygiene is priority treatment number one. Always keep your dog’s ears clean. Furthermore, severe ear infections of the canal can spread to the middle and inner ear, so prompt attention to the problem needs to be priority number one.
Further treatments can be the use of antibiotics (for bacterial infections) and anti fungals (for yeast infections). They may have to be combined with products reducing the amount of inflammation. Hormone abnormalities and allergies require treatment of the dog as a whole and may include hormonal replacements and allergy testing. Allergies, besides being treated by changing the diet, should include specific ear cleaning solutions, antihistamines and fatty acid supplements. Severe or chronic bacterial infections in most cases require the use of antibiotics.
So, with now knowing what the causes could be, how it’s diagnosed and treated, you understand why I felt that the doc’s conclusion for an allergy was a little too fast.
The column's vet proceeds in his comment by recommending a diet to be found at his place. Due to my own business interest I am not going to repeat the ones he made but would like to make my own recommendations. Instead of now listing a ton of food products I find suitable, if you are interested please e-mail me for more info.
Following what we have learned above, the vet additionally to diet changes recommends food supplementation with cod liver oil and ear cleansers and drops based on tea tree oil. Apparently he has had good results with both of those, I only can agree, my customers report similar results and complete satisfaction with similar and/or tea tree oil based ear washes and drops. The same as what I said above for the food applies here, e-mail me if you are interested in specific product recommendations.
In conclusion, the key to healthy ears is to keep them clean. Check your dog’s ears regularly. A slight amount of waxy buildup may be present in normal ears. If your dog swims a lot, has pendulous ears, or a history of ear disease, routine cleaning up to three times weekly is recommended. If your dog shows severe discomfort, if the ears have bad smelling discharges, or the ear canals look very abnormal, see your vet immediately. If your dog has a ruptured or weakened ear drum, some ear cleansers and medications could do more harm than good.

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